Alzheimer's & Dementia

When dementia is mistaken for bad behavior

By May 9, 2022 No Comments

These are often just a few of the words used to describe the distress commonly shown by people with dementia.

  • Combative
  •  Agitated
  •  Difficult
  •  Anxious

Unfortunately, the all-too-common action taken by family and physicians is to try to treat the behavior with medications. It is rarely understood that these medications do not actually address anything but more likely cause other side effects and begin a vicious circle of problems.

The first thing to understand is that people with dementia are often trying to communicate their needs, but they may not have the words to express themselves. Their behavior is a form of communication.

The second is that many of the behaviors commonly seen in dementia are actually side effects of the medications used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and pain. These drugs are often given without a thorough review of the person’s already existing medication list, and without considering whether the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people with dementia who were taking antipsychotic medications were more than twice as likely to die as those not taking the drugs. The study also found that people with dementia who were taking anticholinergic drugs, such as certain antidepressants and bladder control medications, had a 50% increased risk of death.

The bottom line is that the use of psychoactive drugs to treat people with dementia is often ineffective and risky. There are much safer and more effective ways to manage the behaviors associated with dementia.

Behavior is communication, not a disease.

The key to preventing the distress, it turns out, is to use the behaviors and other information as a means to identify and resolve the root causes of the anguish.

Dementia diminishes a person’s ability to communicate verbally, so people with this condition of tend to compensate by communicating behaviorally.

Rather than drugging to suppress the behaviors, we must try to figure out what the behaviors mean.

Family caregivers can attend free classes to gain an understanding of how these behaviors manifest in order to learn how to communicate with their dementia afflicted loved one.

When looking for care for a loved one with Dementia it is important to find that care element that understands how to manage these “behavioral” situations with means other than medicating. observe and ask the hard questions to make sure the care needs can be met.

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